From NYHJ: Are the Rangers haunted by the Folga Curse?
by Elliot Olshansky/Correspondent
At the moment, the biggest obstacle standing between the New York Rangers and their fifth Stanley Cup championship is the NHL lockout, which had yet to impact a single regular-season game as of press time, but already had wiped out the preseason and sent top summer acquisition Rick Nash to Switzerland, where he’ll play for HC Davos until a new Collective Bargaining Agreement is signed and the season can begin.
Eventually, however, the NHL season should begin, and with it, the speculation over whether the Blueshirts’ biggest conference hurdle will take the shape of Philadelphia, Boston, Washington or Pittsburgh.
The answer to that question, however, may not lie in any of those cities. It just may be in a city two hours north of Pittsburgh, a city that — like the Big Apple — has been waiting to see the most famous trophy in sports for the last 18 years.
Because somewhere in Erie, Pa., most likely on the campus of Mercyhurst College, a man named Mike Folga hasn’t forgotten.
Folga, who currently is the head athletic trainer and equipment manager for the Lakers’ men’s and women’s hockey programs, was the equipment manager for the Rangers in 1994. Like everyone else associated with the team — players, coaches, executives, doctors, etc. — he was due to have a day with the Stanley Cup after the Blueshirts ended their 54-year drought with their dramatic run.
There was just one problem: The Cup never quite made it to him.
“I was driving up to meet the person that had the Cup,” Folga said, “and I got a call on the way there that they couldn’t make it, without any kind of explanation. I’m sure a party was involved, because back in ’94, the Cup wasn’t supervised like it is now. I was promised they’d make up a date, but they haven’t yet.”
In the aftermath of that letdown, Folga — whose career previously had included farm system work with the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Chicago Cubs — presented the Rangers with their own version of the Cubs’ infamous “Curse of the Billy Goat.” In 1945, Chicago bar owner Billy Sianis was asked to leave a World Series game against the Detroit Tigers at Wrigley Field because his pet goat’s odor was offending other fans. He vowed the Cubs would win no more.
Forty-nine years later, Folga was denied his day with the Cup.
“It was promised to me,” he said. “I never got it. You work hard. You certainly don’t play the game, but you’re there every day; you’re on the bench every day (and) you put a lot of work in every day, and to see it paraded around all over the place — especially when we were in New York for a week or two after the season ended — I just never got it.
“Alex Kovalev is the only other person on the team who never had it, and that includes doctors, dentists, favorite bartenders, you name it. Everybody had it, so I just kind of said, ‘Until the Stanley Cup arrives in Erie, Pennsylvania, I guess New York will never win the Stanley Cup.’”
Folga didn’t say it too loudly — after all, he worked for the Rangers for another six seasons — but 18 years later, the Cup still hasn’t made it to Erie, and it hasn’t found its way back to Madison Square Garden either (save for jersey retirement ceremonies, of course).
And, thanks to the friends Folga gathered over the course of 11 years in the NHL (including a stint as head medical trainer for the St. Louis Blues), word of the “Folga Curse” has filtered out to various corners of the hockey universe.
“It started out as a joke,” Folga said. “It’s still meant somewhat as a joke. To me, it gets funnier and funnier every year, but not the players and management in New York, or (Rangers coach John) Tortorella or anyone.”
Of course, anyone who watched the Rangers’ current bench boss interact with the media this past spring could imagine he wouldn’t find much humor in a supposed “curse,” but Folga would know better than most. After all, when Tortorella got his first head coaching job with the Virginia Lancers of the Atlantic Coast Hockey League in 1986, Folga was his trainer and equipment manager. Looking back now, Folga sees a number of parallels between the man currently charged with guiding the Rangers to a Stanley Cup and the man who did so last.
“I just like those type of people,” Folga said of Tortorella and Mike Keenan, who guided the 1994 Cup run. “You know where you stand. You work hard for the guy and he rewards you. You dog it, you get what you deserve. That’s the bottom line. I don’t think they play too many games.”
Of course, Folga can’t help but hope that some kind words might bring another reward. “Maybe ‘Tortie’ will read this article and decide that if he wants to win, he might want to drop it off,” Folga joked.
In truth, Folga knows he has very little to complain about. He works in his hometown, enjoys his work at Mercyhurst — “It’s in your blood, you do it, and you don’t even notice it as work,” he said — and can count the Rangers’ 1994 Cup run as a highlight in a career that’s included work with the likes of Wayne Gretzky (whose fantasy camp Folga works at in the offseason) and a young Pittsburgh Pirates prospect by the name of Barry Bonds.
“Barry was about 192 (pounds) when I picked him up at the airport,” Folga recalled. “He sure worked out a lot, didn’t he?”
The laughs come quite easily for Folga these days, and for whatever jokes there are about the “Folga Curse,” he sees a bright future on Broadway for his old boss (who has his own ties to Erie through his season with the ACHL’s Erie Golden Blades).
“If anybody’s going to win a Cup in New York, he’s going to win it,” Folga said of Tortorella. A pause. “As long as he brings the Cup to Erie before then.”
This article originally appeared in the October 2012 issue of New York Hockey Journal.